Today I’ve been thinking about different relationships in my life, those that have come and gone, and why that may be the case. Overwhelmingly, I can pinpoint any rupture in a relationship to my having my feelings hurt, and distancing myself as a way to protect myself. I have also hurt other people, and pushed them away. I am not an angel and don’t wish to paint my experience as that of a sensitive victim.
I do think I have different needs relative to many aspects of life. I think it has been hard for many people to understand and accept these needs. It’s been even harder for me to communicate them, and to feel like I actually deserve to have them met. I sometimes feel that people become interested in my company for one reason, and then get put off by who I “really” am. That’s a difficult thing to deal with. I think my life experience with my family and so forth has been tough, but I think what makes it tougher is the fact that I am so sensitive. I can’t just “go with the flow,” most of the time. As much as I enjoy my life, there are several aspects of life that are very overwhelming to me, though completely normal to others. Often the thing that overwhelms me the most is the energy of other people. That’s not most common complaint, and if you are not a very sensitive person, you might not understand what I’m talking about. But I can almost equate it to an allergy. If you can’t eat nuts because you are allergic (versus just thinking they are not tasty), you will alter your life profoundly to avoid consuming them or even being near them. It is life or death for you. I know people with nut allergies who choose not to travel to certain “popular vacation” areas they would otherwise want to visit, because their need to keep themselves feeling safe outweighs their desire to visit a place that they can’t guarantee will offer them a “nut-free” experience.
Similarly, to keep myself happy, I need to make sure that my life it also “nut-free,” though my nuts do not grow on trees. Mostly, my nuts take the form of other humans, or of certain social or work situations. While I have gotten a lot better about being in the moment and not letting situations overwhelm me, I still have a problem being around certain “energies.” Some people and some situations are just too much for me to know what to do with. Since I am in my own little sensitive boat with this particular allergy, it can make me feel very isolated and alone.
We, in our current culture, are not interested in making life easier for sensitive people. Especially the sensitivity I am talking about, which is ambiguous, and could be chalked up to just having an annoying or difficult personality.
Everything in this current life is about forming and accruing hardness and toughness. To be sensitive isn’t a plus. I’ve been told since I was a little kid that I am too sensitive. What that has equated to, in my view, is the sense that my gut feelings are not valid and do not matter.
We are a superficial culture, and this is evident in our abuse of language more than anywhere else (even instagram). If you do something against someone, saying “sorry”—even if it’s not heartfelt—is how you make it better. I equate American society’s current obsession with correct language as a part of this superficiality. Language should change. There are so many terms that would be so hurtful if they still existed in contemporary speech. Hurtful words should be eliminated from our lexicon whenever possible. HOWEVER. What is much more hurtful is the emotion and intention (conscious or subconscious) that drives words and actions. While terms often carry synchronous emotion—they just as often don’t. For example: I usually say “hi guys,” to my students, male and female, when I greet them. In no way am I privileging men or the patriarchy by using the word “guys.” It’s a term of casual-yet-professional affection—I adore my students, and also feel great resonance with the responsibility I have as a teacher to keep my relationship with them mutually respectful. I would never want to hurt anyone by using a gendered term. If someone expressed a problem with me saying “guys,” I would talk to them about it and work through it. But I know that the emotion behind my words is filled with authenticity, kindness and respect (all worked on and hard-won). I feel that this is infinitely more important than searching for a more gender-neutral term that might sound more “correct” to contemporary ears, but lack the immediate expression of love and kindness that I deliver by not thinking so fucking hard about it.
There is knowledge, and then there is intuition. The latter has always felt more true to me. I understand how much words can hurt. I’m a writer, and believe in the power of words. But I think we as a culture focus on the most superficial aspects of human dynamics as a way of trying to “fix” what is broken. I wish, instead of this intense focus on language, there might be a way to see language as merely the symptom of a way bigger problem.
That problem? Essentially: we hate ourselves and each other and we don’t know how to connect. That is so often the energy I experience in social settings, and it is one that makes me want to run and hide. Whether I am for or against a specific politician is beside the point. When all I experience is constant conversation about that politician delivered with an energy I can only describe as venomous, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. Our country is in this position BECAUSE of an opposing venom of the exact same viscosity.
For once, rather than hearing or seeing it, feel the world around you. I know this sounds totally crazy. Up until 6 years ago, I would have been like, “OK I’ll get right to feeling the world around me. Sounds great.” I know what it is to be purely logical and rational, and to deny your emotional relationship to the world. But we have to admit: the world at large has driven straight past logical and rational. We are not working with that criteria anymore. You may be engaging with capitalism in a way that makes you feel sheltered right now (I, for one, am not), but you are not safe. No one is. When you feel the world right now, it feels amiss. And I am saying this as an optimist. I love the world, and I think humans do want the best for one another. I am not (anymore) reactionary to the factual horrors of environment and politics we are bombarded with on a daily basis. What I am, what I have always been (though I tried for most of my life to block this out), is someone who feels the world deeply.
We need to change the way we are operating in this world. We need to start listening to sensitive people. We are doing no one any good by constantly complaining about a situation that is not an aberration from the norm, but merely a reflection of the true norm. When you are attracted to anger, venom and bitterness in the name of righteous indignation, ask yourself why true leaders, like MLK Jr., Ghandi, etc. never needed that energy to do what they did. We need our gentle and profound leaders to rise up again. We need a gentle, sensitive and profound world.